Money and Relationships

The High Cost of Poor Health Care

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It’s no secret that even with the  Affordable Care Act, it’s costly to be healthy in America. But the high cost of poor health care is even more costly.

 How We Compare

America spends $2.8 trillion a year on health care, amounting to 1/6 of the total economy.  Broken down per person, that is $8500 a year each of us would spend on health care.

The US spends 17.7% of it’s economy on health care.  Compare that to France at 11.6%, Canada at 11.2%, the UK at 9.4%, and Australia at 8.9%.  A lot of this spending can be explained because of lack of price controls.

In most Western countries, the government negotiates price with drug and device makers.  America does not.  That’s why the heart burn drug Nexium, for example, costs $215 in the States and $23 in the Netherlands.

Free market advocates will argue that this encourages innovation but what it really means is that Americans subsidize drugs and medical devices for the rest of the world.

And we don’t get much for our money.  Americans are fatter and die younger than their Western counterparts.  In a study that ranked American health care against ten other Western, industrialized nations, we came dead last, pun intended.

 What We Can Do

Things aren’t likely to change anytime soon.  The Democrats got killed in the mid-term elections and the Republicans are beating the same, tired drum about repealing the Affordable Care Act.

So like many things in America, we will have to take matters into our own hands.  People love to claim that being healthy is more costly but it’s not true when you average out the cost of ill health over a lifetime.

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 Eating Healthy Is Expensive

I hate this one.  I cook a few times a week and take the leftovers to work for lunch.  I spend about $50 a week for groceries which I could get lower if there was really any reason to.  But I have plenty of room in my budget for $50 a week.  That includes non-food items like paper towels and cleaning products.

There are hundreds of blogs and cook books devoted to cooking good, healthy meals on a budget.  Budget Bytes is my favorite.  Beth breaks each recipe down by cost per ingredient and cost per meal.  She also includes step by step instructions complete with photos of each step.

I don’t eat only the purest, most locally sourced organic food although I do make room for some of that, particularly in the summer when the farmer’s market has all the best stuff.  I eat protein, vegetables and some fruit. If your diet includes more starches like rice, pasta and potatoes, you can do it for less.  I don’t snack between meals much.

But the biggest difference is that I cook.  I don’t always feel like it after work so I have contingency plans for those nights.  A piece of fish and some steamed vegetables can be on the table in less than thirty minutes.  If I’m not even feeling up to that, I have frozen meals that I’ve cooked previously waiting.

The Harvard School of Public Health did the math for us.  It costs $1.50 per day to eat healthy food as opposed to junk food.  That will be a little to some and a lot to others.  But it has such a big impact on your health and future earning power, that you need to find that money in the budget.

 I Don’t Have Time To Exercise

Time is a big excuse for why people don’t work out.  News flash: we’re all busy.  The difference is some of us are running and lifting weights and some of us are busy sat on our asses watching Netflix or looking at cat pictures on Reddit.

Americans spend an average of five hours per day watching television, one hour on the internet, and an hour and seven minutes on a smartphone.  So assuming we’re working eight hours and sleeping eight hours, we’re spending the rest of the day doing one of those three things.

You can’t take one of those hours go for a run, take a yoga class, join a soccer league?  Is that what you want for your life?  You go to work, come home, microwave yourself a Hot Pocket for dinner and sit around trolling people on Tumblr?  You deserve more.

None of these half measures though please.  As Americans, we’re a fat ass people.  Parking farther away from Wal-Mart and taking one flight of stairs a day is not the difference we’re looking to make.

Walking is free.  A lot of suburban America is oddly side walk free but there is surely a high school running track or a park you could drive to.  Use part of your lunch hour if you don’t feel like working out once you get home.  Or just go to bed and get up earlier and do it first thing.  This is the only thing that seems to work for me.  I know I’ll never exercise if I leave it to the end of the day.

 An Ounce of Prevention

America has the best triage system in the world.  If you get shot or get into a car accident, an American trauma center is your best chance at survival.  And if you’ve been shot, you’re in luck!  Most likely it happened in America.

What we aren’t good at is preventative medicine even though it would save us all time, money, and suffering.

Many of us don’t take control of our health care and rely on doctors to do what’s best for us.  But not all doctors are created equal.  And if it’s a doctor that takes insurance, they may not spend a lot of time with you.  In order to pay overhead and make a living, they need to see as many patients a day as possible.

Because America allows drugs to be advertised, many people will go to the doctor and ask for a prescription, and many doctors are happy to oblige.  It shuts the patient up, requires no educating, and gets them out of the office fast to make room for the next co-pay.

If you can find an integrative or functional medical doctor and can afford to pay for visits out of pocket, you will get much higher quality health care.  If you can find one who takes insurance, you’ve found a unicorn.  These doctors are more interested in preventative care than most conventional medicine doctors.

A good doctor will run blood work beyond the basics like cholesterol.  They’ll check for vitamin deficiencies and hormone imbalances.  They’ll discuss your sleep, exercise, and eating habits.  And their first line of defense won’t be a drug with a laundry list of side effects.

If you can partner with a good doctor, you can prevent a lot of the chronic, preventable diseases that plague Americans and are a drain on the health care system like Type II diabetes and heart disease.  You will save years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars on health care and missed work.

Ok, you get it.  The system sucks, it’s broken.  But you don’t have to get sucked into it.  Eat well, sleep well, exercise well and partner with a good doctor so you  can avoid it.

Candice Elliott - Senior Editor
Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.

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